Where there is a will there is a way

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My tomato learning this year

 Starting out fresh this year - lots of hay and baby tomato plants of a variety of jam tomatoes.  
The dream is to grow enough to make my own pasta sauce - enough for my family's needs one day.

Hay as mulch
The new shoots of grass that you have to weed out (or turn that hay patch over to kill them) are annoying - but it was cheap (and I could get a bale of hay as opposed to a plastic bag of pea straw - no packaging and cheap).  

Plants growing - didn't have the bamboo poles yet so tying some plants to the fence in the meanwhile.  Even used a forest stick for one stake which worked well (lots of natural notches to find and tie to, unlike slippery bamboo poles).   

A useful notch

Almost too much learning and keeping up with the garden to report.  For the first time I really felt the pull of the land, I got a two month temp job filling in for an absent secretary, and then keeping up with the garden I had planted was a challenge.

This year I was inspired by Jackie French's gardening book,  The Best of Jackie French: A practical Guide to Everything from Aphids to Chocolate Cake, where she says, 'Don't prune your tomatoes or you'll get less fruit'.  She said you can let them ramble up a bank, or stake them.  So I decided to let them grow without much pruning, and let them explore their true vine nature.
I theorized that as long as I gave them nutritional (and enough gravitational) support, each new branch, like another plant, would produce as well as if it were planted separately.



gravitational support

I solved the staking problem by utilizing a pile of very tall bamboo that we had resourced for the Stillwater Raft Race in March.  The tomato plants, as they grew, were staked organically, giving them support as needed - even using somewhat an idea I saw posted by Different Solutions where the bamboo is made into crosses with a cross bar laid across the row of crossed poles.  I used stretchy ties from old t-shirts to tie growing branches to the tent-like framework.

problems with my method

BUT this way of staking suffered from lack of sufficient planning - so while the plants were supported, it was hard to walk across through the crazy framework when it was filled with growing and easy to damage the tomato vine branches, and hard to access the tomato fruit.  And my veggie garden looked like The Blair Witch Project movie.

Also, the "vining off" became exponential - and especially with my decreased amount of time to spare - the vines nearly overcame me.  In the end, I had to go on as lateral shoot seek and destroy mission, which continues to this day.

solutions for next year

Next year, I can really envision this ordered, productive, lovely life - I can picture the fruitful, well managed rows of tomato plants - supporting a fruitful existence.

My husband said he will help me create an ordered structure of bamboo polesI will prune away until the main stalk is established (my friend Deb's idea), letting a maximum of three branches grow off each plant, properly staked to the structure (hanging from structure from stretchy ties - they seem to like that).  And I would rather have more, well-managed individual plants, than more hard-to-control branches.

But I am glad I got to see the tomato plant's true nature, and even that I made a few painful mistakes.  Now I really get it.

Problematic: multiple stalks rather than one main trunk

nutritional support

I kept saying to myself, I really have to fertilize the plants!  Weeks went by.

Finally, I got a few huge sacks of compost, and spread a small bucket load on every plant.

problems with my method

BUT this resulted in a huge infestation of whitefly, as there was too much nutrients at once!  Jackie French said about fertilizing tomatoes in her book, 'A little bit and often is best'.  So I got to see why this was important the hard way!  


I had to fight, fight fight with Neem oil, and Neem granules in the soil, which did hurt the plants a bit the extent that I did it.  And the whiteflies are still there now on half my plants - and little white wiggly wormies still infests much of the soil.  And Neem is stinky.  (I did remove many green tomatoes to get red in my house before spraying.)  I also had a deep moment with a praying mantis who had arrived to bring balance into my garden.  I brought another in that we found in another part of our yard - to help maintain balance in future.

solutions for next year

Definitely going with 'little and often is best' for next year.

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Despite the problems, I still ended up with many healthy tomatoes.  And a great deal of "tomato learning".


For an earlier post on how to prune laterals, go here.

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